For more than 20 years the Healthy Start program has been striving to reduce infant mortality and the low birth weight of babies. Presently, the national Healthy Start program serves 104 projects in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Since its inception, the Pittsburgh Allegheny County region has been an essential part of the project, expanding into Fayette County in 2000.

GOLFING FOR A CAUSE—Former Steelers Mike Wagner, Craig Bingham, Matt Bahr, Rocky Bleier, Andy Russell, J.T. Thomas, L.C. Greenwood, Todd Kalis and Justin Hartwig stand with Healthy Start staff Mitch Coates (second from last), as the team prepares to tee off.

Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, and Maternal and Child Health Bureau, as executive director, of the local Healthy Start entities, Cheryl Squire Flint and her staff are always thinking of creative fundraising events. “Even though our federal grant continues, the agency has needs that it does not cover,” she explained, citing cribs and car seats as a few items.

Focused on assisting the organization in their fundraising efforts, former Pittsburgh Steeler L.C. Greenwood recently hosted the Tee Up for Babies Charity Golf Outing that featured other former Steelers. “I’m just trying to raise money for a group that is doing good work in the community,” he indicated. Some Steeler alumni that participated included Rocky Bleier, Matt Bahr, Craig Bingham, Justin Hartwig, Todd Kalis, J.T. Thomas and Mike Wagner.

Excited about the results of the outing, Mitch Coates, organizer and IT liaison for Healthy Start, said, “For our first time it was a great event. We had more golfers than expected and our sponsor support was good.” He said the 2013 Tee up for Babies outing is scheduled for May at the Longue Club.

Unlike the annual Cultural Sensitivity Symposium, which is in its ninth year, this was their first golf outing. Labeled as the first annual, the organization is working toward making it a regular Healthy Start event.

This year’s symposium titled, Parenting in a Diverse Community, according to board chair Valerie Wheatley, was geared toward sharing best practices with the community to collectively come one step closer in ensuring that our children grow up healthy physically, emotional and cognitively. Organizers said their hope was that attendees would leave the event with a raised level of awareness on all fronts including treatment, advocacy and policy, while focusing on the overall goal of improving care and health.

More than 250 attendees participated in the symposium. Rose Rock, mother of 10 children and 17 foster children, was the keynote speaker. Workshop presenters were Dennis A. Davis, developer of the Behavioral Risk Management Program; Maureen Healy, founder of Growing Happy Kids; Sandi Schwartz, CEO of Leading Edge Parenting LLC; and Marilyn L. Skrbin, coordinator of Family Programs at the Temecula Valley Unified School District in California.

“Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding job there is,” said Rock. “Your children are the message that you send into the world.” The author of, Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children” has been traveling the states sharing her wisdom of motherhood. She also is an educator specializing in preschool and special education. For 17 years she taught and operated preschool and day care centers in New York City and South Carolina. Rock hosts a weekly radio program, “The Mom Show” based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and is the founder of a nonprofit youth empowerment organization called Rock This 619.

Rock, mother of comedian Chris Rock, said she raised all her children to be great, which meant to be wonderful people. Now concerned that we have a generation of lost children, she said it is important to introduce and establish rules at an early age.

“Rules that start at home follow a child through life. Kids have to be held accountable and need expectations. Rules are your kid’s friends and boundaries are their securities.” She also reminded the audience of adults that their children are not their friends. “Being a parent and a friend are completely different. Parents have to set an example and provide structure.”

Healthy Start Inc.’s mission is to focus primarily on the reduction of infant mortality and low birth weight babies in southwestern Pennsylvania in such a way as to make valuable use of its resources, preserve its flexibility and continue to offer seamless services with the intent of improving the quality of life of infants, toddlers, youth, siblings, parents and grandparents.

Since 1991 the organization has focused on the need to strengthen and enhance community systems available to the medical, reproductive, behavioral and psychological needs of women and infants by increasing awareness and utilization of appropriate health and human services. It also works to streamline and coordinate services between public and private agencies, and build partnerships of commitment among families, volunteers, business, health care, and social service providers.

Upcoming events for Healthy Start is the May 19, 2012 Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community and their annual Volunteer Recognition, May 23 at the John Heinz Regional History Center.

To become a client or to become a member of one of their six regional consortiums, call 412-247-4009.

Consortiums members consist of participants, service providers, public officials and members of the clergy and business community.

Healthy Start programs are for women who are pregnant, new parents, or families who have children up to the age of two. Its Male Initiative Program is available to any man who is either a father, biological or non-biological, or primary male caregiver and where the mother or female caregiver is enrolled with Healthy Start and resides in the project area. Eligibility for its Promoting Responsible Fathers program are fathers, mothers and caregivers who are residents of Allegheny County and have children ages 0-5 years old.

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